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#48: How to make the Olympics
And wrack up frequent flyer miles while doing it.
issue #48: Aug. 16, 2023
All-sporters: It’s another newsletter written from another flight. This time, on my way to Paris for the test event, ‘natch. (More on that in a moment.)
First, though, welcome to our new subscribers. I feel I should tell you all upfront: this is a newsletter about triathlon. (Sometimes I feel like people are surprised by the triathlon-ness.) If you’d rather hear all about women’s sports, subscribe to our new The Feist weekly newsletter.
Now, we’re going to cover a couple of the big triathlon topics this week—with just handful of other, fewer than usual, odds-and-ends. And Sunday’s evening newsletter that goes out to paying subscribers will have some fun bits from France.
If you’re in Paris, shoot me a note or drop a comment.
Selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower
The biggest news in tri: Why is everyone cool going to Paris right now—besides the fact that people always want to go to Paris? (True story: I’m 95% sure the reason the Paris 2024 Organizing Committee got so many press credential requests for the tri race is only half because of the sexy appeal of the water quality issue, but mostly because all of sudden a bunch of journalists “needed” to go to Paris for “reporting.”)
A year out from the Olympic Games, there are a number of these test events designed as a kind of trial run for the venues and logistics. They also serve as big Olympic qualifying races for many countries.
The triathlon test event is one of the biggest because of its scale—roads closed in front of the Eiffel Tower, Champs d’Elysee, fancy historic bridges—and because, within the triathlon universe, all the very very best short-course athletes are there. In some ways, since numbers are more limited in the Olympics, the Paris Test Event for triathletes is even deeper, with more on the line.
However, and this is a big however, if the swim gets canceled because of water quality (not the plan right now, but very much a concern if there's a storm tonight), then it voids the race as an Olympic qualifier for pretty much every country.
ProTriNews has a quick breakdown of the Olympic qualification bullet points for some of the key countries’ teams. Many countries are using a kind of harder A standard if you want to lock down qualification right now (ie. it’ll take a podium in Paris) or a B standard that this counts towards (ie. top 10 here *and* also at the Grand Final next month in Pontevedra).
But we’re just going to focus on three countries right now:
It’ll take a podium in Paris to lock down an Olympic spot.
Cassandre Beaugrand could do it.
The French men’s team is probably the only team that’s going to be harder to make than the American women’s. All four on the start list could be medal contenders here and next year: Vince Luis (yes, back), Leo Bergere, Dorian Coninx, Pierre Le Corre.
You can bet the French want to nail this shit in France.
Team GB, notoriously, makes auto-qualification very tough. Only previous Olympic medalists can lock it down here, with a podium. Everyone else has to podium both here *and* in Pontevedra in September.
Only Jonny Brownlee and Alex Yee are starting on the men’s side, but you know, they’re Jonny Brownlee and Alex Yee—both previous Olympic medalists.
The GB women’s team is good as they come. They could have multiple medalists next year. (It’s just less stressful than the U.S. team because it’s a little more clear.) But right now Tokyo silver medalist Georgia Taylor-Brown is out with an injury, so focus is on Beth Potter and Sophie Coldwell—who have both won WTCS races already this year and who will look to notch one podium counting towards their two they need.
This is the race we’re all holding our breath for. To get an Olympic spot, it needs to either be the top athlete in the top three + the next best American in the top eight OR the top athlete in the top eight (ie. if no one podiums, only one athlete makes it).
On the men’s side, that’ll be tough, but Matt McElroy or Chase McQueen could pull one out—and Morgan Pearson is still waiting for a roll on to the start list.
On the women’s side, oof, oooof. Waiting to see which of these athletes is going to do it on the day is why we’re all watching. There are dozens of WTCS podiums, some world titles, and one Olympic bronze medal in this mix: Taylor Knibb, Taylor Spivey, Summer Rappaport, and Katie Zaferes (who, yes, is doing it now as one of just a few moms on the circuit). Plus, the fifth American on the start could make it happen too, Kirsten Kasper.
Someone asked me why the U.S. makes auto-qualifier slightly easier than Team GB does. And the answer is, in general, the U.S. really prefers auto-qualification; we do not like discretionary picks where it can be helped. It’s un-American. (If not in Paris, then auto-qualifying for the U.S. team will require a podium in Pontevdera or at a third TBA event in the spring. If there are still spots after that, only then does it go to committee.)
The other big names:
Gold medalist Flora Duffy is back for the first time this year (!?!)
Kristian Blummenfelt, of course our other gold medalist, and Hayden Wilde are both lining up—but not Gustav Iden
SWIM: Two loops in the Seine, with a climb up ancient French steps in the middle
BIKE: Seven flat laps with quite a lot of turns around the tourist part of Paris: Arc de Triomphe, Grand & Petit Palais, bridges
RUN: Four smaller loops around some of the same stuff. It all starts and ends on the Pont Alexandre bridge
My biggest preoccupation right now is: How are they going to get pedestrian traffic across the bridges the race is on? I don’t think it’s possible, right? It’ll become wildly backlogged. And, no, I am not assuming that’s necessarily been sorted out.
Women’s race: Thursday at 2 a.m. ET/Wednesday at 11 p.m. PT
Men’s race: Friday at 2 a.m. ET/Thursday at 11 p.m. PT
Para races: Start at 2 a.m. ET Saturday/11 p.m. PT Friday
Mixed relay: Sunday at 2 a.m. ET/Saturday at 11 p.m. PT
Of course, because triathlon gonna triathlon, that’s not the only big race in the next ten days, or even this week.
The question looming for everyone is simply managing travel: Some athletes are going from the Paris Test Event to 70.3 Worlds in Lahti (because that generally makes sense depending on where you live), some are doing 70.3 Worlds and then into Nice/Kona Ironman World Champ prep, some are doing Asia Open into that plan. And, of course, only Kristian Blummenfelt is doing the Paris Test Event on Friday, Asia Open on Sunday, and 70.3 Worlds the following Sunday. Because not everyone has to make sense.
Sure, there are some of the same names racing in Singapore this Saturday & Sunday that we just saw in Milwaukee two weeks ago, but on the women’s side we’ve also got some additions: Chelsea Sodaro back in form (!), Lucy Charles-Barclay (despite dealing with another injury), and Anne Haug joining Ashleigh Gentle, plus throw Sarah True and Fenella Langridge in the mix. On the one hand, we could see a repeat of the Ibiza podium from earlier this year. On the other hand, any of them could win.
On the men’s side, I think we’re all happy to see Gustav Iden on a start line again (and hoping for the best for him at what seems like his favorite distance). Of course, Kristian and Magnus Ditlev are back (ideally, cramp-free), and no one will sit on Jason West this week. Plus, Max Neumann is returning for the first time since his Ibiza win. Will he actually get promoted in the pre-race hype this time?
Women’s race: Saturday at 3 a.m. ET/midnight PT
Men’s race: Sunday at 3 a.m. ET/midnight PT
We’ll talk about 70.3 Worlds in Lahti a bunch more next week, but the final start lists were also also released yesterday—and when I say “final” I mean: most of those people listed, but not all, will definitely start.
There are 57 women and 64 men right now. However, some of the people on the list who are in Paris will very much be waiting to see how this week goes before thinking about next week.
Preliminarily, we have both returning world champs and vice world champs (Taylor Knibb, Paula Findlay, Kristian Blummenfelt, and Ben Kanute). Plus, a growing horde who specialize in this distance (Holly Lawrence, Sam Long, etc). And, I think we’re all excited to see Daniela Ryf back at a 70.3 Worlds. The only person I really wish was wracking up her frequent flyer miles to go from Singapore to Finland is Ashleigh Gentle—but I know she’s decided to focus on the big money PTO races instead this year and is eyeing the 70.3 Worlds in New Zealand next year (close to home).
2024 in North America
One more quick big thing this week: Ironman officially released their final N. American schedule for 2024. And for those of who were hoping there were some new announcements coming to fill in the gaps where so many fulls have been cancelled, sorry, it’s not in the cards right now. If you want a spring Ironman, you’ve got Texas. If, like me, you have zero desire to ever race Texas, then you’re going to have to wait until late July in Placid.
Yes, a lot of races have been nixed lately. No more full at Tulsa, Mont-Tremblant, Coeur d’Alene, St. George, Louisville. There are just nine N. American fulls left—and only two of them are before mid-August. A number of 70.3s are gone too. Will this change for 2025? To move things around and adjust to demand? Probably. But “adjust to demand” is the key phrase there.
I’ve been seeing a lot of people with a lot of opinions lately about what Ironman is doing wrong, how to fix triathlon. I went through the survey data, too, back in the spring from Endurance Exchange. And the first thing everyone always say is: decrease the price of race registration. They say: get rid of the swag and that’ll make it cheaper.
But, here’s a dirty little secret: The registration fee is not the biggest cost in doing triathlon. It’s also (largely) not what stops people from doing triathlon, not at that point of sale. And (AND!!!), triathlon is not generally a profitable business venture anyway. The swag is not the line item that makes a race expensive to put on; it’s labor costs. In reality, the actual unsubsidized cost to put on a race would likely be higher than the entry fees you’re currently paying.
Plus, take a look around, there’s a huge problem with getting enough volunteers. Even at small, local events. (I actually think this a result of part of the larger national conversation around labor and wages and who makes money.)
So, if all of this is true, then: What is demand going to be? For short-course, for Ironman? Is this a triathlon problem or is this a cultural shift problem?
Rest of the races
Norseman: I had this in my notes last week, but totally forgot to mention it. Of course, Sebi Kienle’s retirement tour Youtube is out now. (He got 2nd.)
Ironman Mont Tremblant & Ironman Kalmar: We’d be remiss not to point out that this weekend is also the qualifying deadline for women for Kona this fall. A number of names looking to get their spot—and be at the last-ever (?) 140.6 in Mont Tremblant.
A shorter list this week of interesting things from around our sports that you should know about.
Most of the top athletes are coached by the big name people you’ve heard about—many by the same handful of coaches. Not Tamara Jewett. Get to know her poet-artist-philosopher coach in this fun profile. (Triathlete)
There are a lot of rumors that a PTO announcement is coming this morning about plans for next year. Well, about some of the plans for next year.
Also, I don’t even know how to tease this here, but: Mirinda Carfrae doesn’t “claim” that women’s sponsorship deals are, on the aggregate, smaller than men’s. She knows. I mean, those of us who have enough data point, we all know this is true. And if you don’t have more than a couple of data points, then listen to those who do. (Tri247)
The inaugural UCI Worlds is over, and it seemed like a success to have all the bike race stuff in one place. In the TT race, since that’s the one I think most of us care about the most, Chloe Dygert won three years after a totally gruesome crash (here’s her power analysis), 48-year-old Amber Neben was 7th (just want to call that out), and pre-race favorite Marlen Reusser had to sit down halfway and stop because she was just too mentally tired (I have definitely been there). Plus, repping for the triathletes, Paula Findlay was 25th in the world. (Bicycling/Velo/Guardian/CyclingNews/Instagram)
This past weekend was also the Leadville 100—and then some crazy people went onto the Breck Epic mtb stage race. (Youtube)
Next up, also starting this weekend, the Track & Field World Champs in Budapest Aug. 19-27. In the U.S., you can watch on NBC and USA. Want to sound smart-ish to your runner friends? Here’s how to talk about track. (NBC Sports/Instagram)
Australian Peter Bol was cleared of doping, after it was determined to be a false positive. Which, like, shouldn’t that have been sorted before his provisional ban ever got announced? (Runner’s World)
A back-of-the-pack TikTok running star. (Runner’s World)
One last thing
Please help them out if you can.